Customer support agents at Agoda are working hard every day around the clock to provide our customers and partners any help they need. Their work processes and procedures can become really complex using different tools and handling many touch points. In our talk today, we discuss with Sabrina and Haeji how they help simplify and enhance our agents work through design, and what are some of the similarities and differences when you are trying to solve your colleagues problems?
And this is actually another thing that's different about working on internal tools, right? I think you're working with a lot of procedures and workflows that are defined by teams within your organization, right? So you can also identify opportunities for these teams to improve their processes.
By working on this product, I get to design like the whole journey user journey. And when we get to solve a problem, I feel really excited and happy to see our agents, uh, satisfaction and save, their handle time.
Hello, and welcome to the design explorers. A podcast by the Agoda design team. Agoda dot com is a global digital travel platform where you can book hotels, vacation rentals, flights, and airport transfer. In this podcast. We'll be sharing the awesome work of our design team. Discuss interesting trends in relation to design and travel and talk about product design in general. My name is Nahum Yamin, and I will be your host for the show. Customer support agents at Agoda are working hard every day around the clock to provide our customers and partners any help they need their work processes and procedures can become really complex using different tools and handling many touch points in our talk today, we discuss with Sabrina and Haeji, how they help simplify and enhance our agents work through design. And what are some of the similarities and differences when you are trying to solve your colleagues problems?
Before we begin, we would like to apologize for the audio quality. In this episode, since we are working from home due to the current situation with the pandemic, we didn't want this to stop us from continuing sharing our design team knowledge. And so we have recorded this session remotely. We hope you can still enjoy your listening and the show despite that and appreciate your understanding. Let's start.
Welcome to our fourth episode of the design explorers. We are here today with Sabrina and Haeji two senior designers who work on designing our customer experience group product. Sabrina, and Haeji. Welcome to the show.
Thanks for having us
Lets give our listeners some background about who you are and how long have you been Agoda
Yeah so I'm Sabrina. I've been at a Agoda for about five years and I've spent the last two of those years working on product for our customer experience group.
Hi, I'm Haeji. Uh, yeah, I've been in Agoda for almost five years now. Um, I've been working on mostly on the front end side and also like the design system for like four years. I just recently moved to CEG.
All right. So as I mentioned, the beginning, both of you are working on our customer experience group product, which we refer to as CG. Maybe we can explain our listeners, what exactly does this group mean
As you were saying, CEG stands for customer experience group and it's the organization within a Agoda responsible for customer and hotel support. So this includes our many customer experience specialists, uh, who we also refer to as our agents, as well as teams who support and enable their operations.
What does it actually mean to design for our customer experience group? What kind of products are you working on?
So we work on some tools that are customer hotel facing, uh, like our automated chat support. Um, but most of our focus is actually on internal tools. So these are the systems that our customer service agents actually.
So internal tools mean that you are designing for, for our colleagues, right? People that we're working with. Uh, do you feel this different in any way from designing for customers or our partners?
Yeah, so I think they're, they both have similarities where they have to lead the user to get what they need as soon as possible, like a good app or web needs to guide our customer to book the property as simple and quick as possible. And also like for our internal tools, they need to be able to guide our agents to solve like our customer, like request as simple and quick as possible. But I think the main differences for internal tool, the way we portray and document all the information is very important. Uh, and also we don't need to use like marketing components with our agents. So basically like peer information, um, workflow and also like documentation. Yep.
Yeah. I think there's definitely a higher level of complexity that comes from needing to support operating procedures and workflows. Um, because with the, our consumer products, right, uh, there's many ways you can get to making a booking as a customer, but for our agents, we actually need them to follow a specific procedures and do things a certain way, and our tools need to accommodate that. Um, and these procedures and workflows are defined and maintained by a lot of different teams. So when we're working on these systems, we have a lot of different stakeholders.
Now, both of you in the beginning when you joined a Agoda, you were working on our customer facing products, uh, but at some point you transitioned to work on our internal tools. Maybe you can tell us a bit how it all started and how was it in the beginning,
I started working on agent tools. The product process was very different from what it is today. Uh, product and design were new to working with CEG at the time. And the org felt very much like a black box. So for the first product I worked on, which was, um, a case management system, uh, which is still one of our main products, we relied on a CEG project manager to relay requests from different teams, um, which we then prioritize and attempt to solve for in our product. But pretty quickly we realized our solutions weren't supporting all use cases they needed to because we lacked a good understanding of the problems we were solving for. Um, learning from that experience, we went on to establish a much more collaborative process with CEG org and product and design. Now regularly spend time with our agents, um, as well as with the different stakeholder teams involved in, uh, determining agent processes and training,
Haeji, you started working on the CEG tools right after Sabrina, but your background is a bit different as you're coming from a more of a visual side. So maybe you can share with us, how was it like for you in the beginning?
I joined the team in Q4 last year. So it's been about eight months since then it happened when we had the reorganization and then the design team. And also at that time, I wanted to try something totally different since I've been working on front end and design to stand for so long. So I talked to my manager, Hey, I wanted to try something more challenging and something that could grow me as a better product design.
Can you give us some example of like, uh, some of your biggest challenges when you just transitioned into this role?
Like I was saying, uh, when I joined the collaboration between product and CEG was very new. Um, so it was really hard for me to know, um, know who to approach for different things. Uh, because I, when I started, I had no idea how the organization worked, right. I just knew, okay, I have my product manager, we have our project manager. Um, but I rarely, but I didn't at all interface with, um, the different teams that actually were defining what agents need to do. And I think that really, um, once I started becoming involved with these different teams, it really helped a lot because you realize, and this is actually another thing that's different about working on internal tools, right. I think you're working with a lot of procedures and workflows that are defined by teams within your organization, right? So you can also identify opportunities for these teams to improve their processes.
So as we're designing this case management system, for instance, um, we can also challenge our operating procedures when we see that certain things are less effective or efficient, um, because a lot of these things were decisions that were made a long time ago. Um, but that being said it can be kind of challenging to figure out who to involve for feedback at different stages of the process, and then how to prioritize that feedback. Right? Because there, of course, everyone has the same end goal because it's within the organization, but there's a lot of conflicting opinions along the way. And one other challenge was actually to build trust with our agents. Uh, when we first started engaging them for feedback, um, products have been releasing these tools and features without proper consideration for how they actually fit into the agent workflows. Um, and this had been causing, uh, agents inconvenience, um, and stress. And so understandably they were a bit reluctant or hesitant, I'd say, uh, but over time we were able to communicate that we really were trying to build the best product for them. And so once we were able to get their buy-in, the process has been a lot smoother.
What about you Haeji? Where are you facing similar or different challenges in the beginning?
For me, my biggest challenge when I first joined the team was just understanding the product itself by that. I mean, how does each project within the organization related to each other and also defining the problems that is happening and coming up with the different solution with the team. But luckily I had Sabrina who helped onboarding me to this project, inviting me to different meetings with different teams, uh, bringing me to shadow our agents weekly and explaining how the working process looks like. And I can tell you that it was really difficult at first. I had some very frustrating moments, um, as well, but both my manager and Sabrina was comforting me by saying, Hey, like, it's, it takes time at least like one quarter to really understand the product.
What would you say were the benefits or more positive aspects of this transition?
So a lot of these challenges were actually been really good learning experiences, right. So I don't think I, I definitely wouldn't call them bad experiences. I've enjoyed them a lot. Um, I've learned a lot about, you know, working with, uh, various different teams at a time, how to keep different people, how to keep different teams aligned, um, as well as a lot about change management. So managing impact of our product right across different teams, uh, because the, for instance of the case management tool, whatever we deliver has impact on not just the agents processes, but also how our operating procedures might be handled within the product. Um, it would also have implications for how learning and development needs to teach agents, how to use new features, you know, and, um, new things within the product. Um, and yeah, so it's, for me, it's just been super interesting.
What about you Haeji? What were some of your, uh, positive takeaways from this journey?
As I said before, that just understanding the product, by finding the problems and coming up with the solution where, uh, some of the challenges, when I first joined the team, it was actually what make me really like and enjoy the product. By working on this product. I get to design like the whole journey user journey. And when we get to solve a problem, I feel really excited and happy to see our agents, uh, satisfaction and save their handled time. Um, it's like, uh, playing Dixon puzzle where you've put pieces together in a long the way and when you see them coming together, you'll feel delighted.
So maybe we can talk a bit about your design process. How does it look like, you know, how do you get yourself to understand the context of the problems that you are working on?
So uh first, uh, problem will be defined like either, uh, by us or raised by someone else in the organization. Um, and then we started to shadow agents when they're handling a request to see their behavior, or even like set up a meeting with them. Um, just to like ask them a question, like specific question relating to the problem. And then, and then like, after we get her some insight, uh, we will, um, like come together and come up with like some designs. And then after we have like, you know, like some design drafts, we will go back again to our agents and then like ask them more questions. And then if it, uh, like somehow makes sense, we will test that out, like AB testing to see how it goes or to see whether there is a bug or not. And then if the tech test wins, we will like kind of leave that to every agent within the organization.
Yeah. Yeah. I think there's like Haeji saying there's different, uh, stages at which we're getting feedback. Right. I think agent shadowing is really great for gathering context, uh, because you can see, and this is when we actually observe agents handling customer requests, right? So taking calls or answering emails and you get to see them using their ecosystem of tools. So including our case management system, but also a lot of the legacy tools that we have to kind of account for, um, when we're designing, right. Because our tool, isn't the only one they're using at any given time. So this is great for kind of establishing establishing context and kind of, uh, you know, like getting a pulse of how new products are being handled or new features are being used. Um, but the feedback sessions that Haeji mentioned are really great for getting more targeted feedback, we'll know we're working on a specific piece, right. Uh, so yeah, we, we kind of use different methodologies along the way. Um, all of them very helpful. We also do, uh, sometimes we do what we call context immersion. So we've actually done a condensed version of agent new hire training, so we can actually take customer requests. Uh, so we've spent some time also actually answering emails, contacting hotels, resolving customer issues, um, which also really gives a good sense of the state of our product
You mentioned a need to handle different stakeholders. How do you do that? And how will you make sure that it's going on smoother without any problems or roadblocks on the way
One thing hat's been super helpful with stakeholder alignment is recurring meetings. So depending on project phase, um, or where we're at with a product, we'll have a recurring meetings, whether weekly a bi-weekly maybe monthly, if it's with more stakeholders. Um, but these are just, these meetings are platforms for different stakeholder teams to actually provide updates. And so other teams can then establish the impact that whatever is being done, might have on their own team. Right. And raise any concerns. Uh, I think in the past, when we haven't been as diligent about having these meetings, um, there'll be small changes that won't be communicated out properly. Um, and because there are so many teams that essentially such a complex product area, a lot of these small changes will actually cascade and have big ramifications down the line. Um, so it's a way to kind of prevent that.
Yeah. I agree. Like, uh, is there any like red flags or anything comes up? Uh, we get to resolve like in early stages and also I think like taking like notes, like in the meeting or documenting like all their working process, um, within like different teams. I think it definitely helps, um, as well. Yeah.
Any other tools that been useful for you in the design process and you would like to share with us?
So there is one tool we recently tried with our agents it's called usertesting.com. It is an online usability testing and research tool to improve customer experience. People usually use it to test it with users outside the company, like all around the world, but in our case, we use it to test it with our internal agents, but there's some pros and cons with, you know, using it internally pros is that our agents tend to speak up more and be really honest about their feedback, because when they're going through this test, they will be going through, um, by themselves alone in the room. But the cons is that since they are new to the tool, we need to spend time, um, explaining about the tool and also have to step by step, tell them what they need to do during the session.
So for everyone who is not familiar with this tool, maybe you can explain to us how exactly does it work.
Okay. The tool is very easy to use. You can upload your prototype, link, pictures, videos, and more, and the session can be spoken tests or written tests. So what I did with tests on usertesting.com is I, I first like laid out my design on Figma, prototype it and wrote down like questions that I wanted to ask the agents. And when do I want to ask them, after that, I reach out to the research team to help me out, um, you know, to, for them to just like, take a look, whether the flow and the question makes sense. And after we finalized everything, I just paste my prototype link along with the question on the, on the usertesting.com. Um, but like I said, like since the tool is very near to our agents, I need to break the tests down into smaller step, like first explaining what they will be doing during the session and encouraging them to read the question and say the answer out loud and use the cursor to point when they are explaining as well.
Right. So it helps you validate your design and your ideas basically right?
Yeah. Because like the voice and the computer screen will be recorded and also telling them step by step, like click next to continue, click next, to start giving feedback. And so on.
So far with your work on CEG, like, what are your biggest key learnings or take away, you know, designing for, for our customer experience group that you would like to share with our listeners
I think a lot of us think that working for internal tool is very hard, very complicated, but actually for me, I think it grew me a lot in terms of being a product designer. I get to design a real product to solve real problems. I get to work with different people from different teams, which I never knew they existed. And they gave me new insights and learnings. And also because it is hard and complicated, it constantly make me question why to a lot of things. And these whys helped me to move forward, challenged myself, to do better and to come up with greater ideas.
I say, one of my biggest takeaways is to ask a lot of questions. Um, it might sound kind of cliche to say, there are no stupid questions, right. But I think especially, uh, in product area like this, where you're working with so many legacy tools and workflows, um, a lot of time, what you think are decisions that have been made deliberately are really just decisions that were made a long time ago. Um, and a lot of the questions that you asked, what actually triggered conversations and discussions that weren't happening, um, and uncover new opportunities for the teams you work with
Thank you very much Sabrina and Haeji, uh, I think it was very interesting to learn about our internal tools. Uh, it's something that we, we don't get much, uh, to hear or even talk about. I appreciate your time and thank you for, for joining us today.
Thank you for having us today and thank you to all the listeners. I hope this episode gave you a bit more understanding on how it looks like working with customer experience group as a product designer, take care and stay safe everyone. Thank you.
Yeah, everyone stay safe and thank you Nahum for having us on.
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